Drought and Water Restrictions in Calgary

Posted on March 19, 2024

By now most of us have heard about the potential for water restrictions ((1) Alberta facing water restrictions, ‘agricultural disaster’ if drought conditions persist | Globalnews.ca) in Calgary this year. After mandatory water restrictions were put in place in August 2023, a first for Calgary (we have had voluntary restrictions in the past), we should not be surprised that this year will require a collective citizen response to support and protect the water supply of our region. I’ve said it before, but it is worth repeating: Alberta is the driest province in Canada and Southern Alberta is the driest region of Alberta. 80% of the province’s water is in the northern part of the province, while 80% of the usage is in the southern part (Facts About Water in Alberta). Snow melt from Rocky Mountains is the largest contributor to the flow of water in the rivers, followed by rainfall, and then groundwater. As it stands, the water reservoir storage in the Bow watersheds upstream from Calgary and the Mountain snowpack are below average. It's no secret, we need water, so how do we balance local water use with protecting the watershed we live in? The two easiest steps for residence to take are to reduce the amount of water that flows from our taps during everyday activities and to reduce or eliminate potable water use for non-potable reasons. Below are a few actions that may seem simple and small, but collectively, make can make a big, positive, impact. 

Inside our homes: 

Sometimes the simplest things are the also the ones we take for granted, so this is just a little reminder, a nudge, to keep us all on track: 

  1. Turn off the tap when you are brushing your teeth, shampooing your hair, or lathing your hands with soap. 

  1. Install low flow showerheads and toilets. Some showerheads come with an option to decrease the water flow even further without having to readjust your water temperature. If you have this option, decrease the flow when shaving or shampooing. 

  1. Check for leaks, especially in the toilet. Not only will this save water and money, but it could save the cost of a larger repair in the future.  

  1. Place a bowl in the kitchen sink to catch water when washing hands, rinsing produce, or waiting for the water to get hotter or colder. This water can then be used to water houseplants. 

  1. Washing full loads of laundry is the most efficient us of water and energy, but in those times when that is not possible, take a second to adjust water level on the machine to match the load size. 

  1. Run the dishwasher when full, only. 

  1. When boiling water for tea, pasta, potatoes, etc, fill pots with only the water needed. More is not only unnecessary to the cooking process, but it will also increase the time needed to boil. 

Outside in our yards: 

Calgary’s outdoor water season is short, but impactful. In the summer, water use can go up 30- 40% (How to care for your lawn (calgary.ca)) due to outdoor water use. During the dryer parts of summer, this is 30-40% more water per household being pulled from a river that is already low. On the other hand, in times of excess water flow, the water treatment plants work extra hard to keep up with treating and testing the water, while also ensuring they are ready to tackle potential flood-related emergencies without interrupting the city’s essential water supply. Reducing the impact of outdoor water use through a few changes to the yard can make a big difference. 

  1. Plant a drought resistant garden that covers a large portion, if not all, of your yard. This is especially effective if your yard is west facing. Those of us with yards that face the blazing afternoon sun know the fool's effort it is trying to keep turf lawn green. Removing my grass and replacing it with drought resistant plants and mulch was the best decision I have ever made in my yard. Creating a native plant garden full of perennials will help to save water, hold the topsoil in place (add mulch to further support this, especially when your plants are young and still building a root system), allow space for rainwater to absorb into the ground water, and give you a beautiful yard to enjoy with half the maintenance. My established yard rarely requires watering above snow melt and rainfall, even in drought. 

  1. Love that grass? Water early in the morning or in the evening to reduce water lost to evaporation. Also, don’t water the road/sidewalk. Instead of turning the sprinkler on high to cover as much area as possible, including the street gutters, keep the water spray low and move it around the yard a few times. This will ensure more of the water is actually hydrating the lawn. 

  1. Water deep to encourage deep roots. Adding native plants and grasses, and then watering “low and slow” as they establish in your yard, will encourage deep root systems that require less watering, overall.   

  1. Build a rain garden. If you have an area in your yard where water flows quickly and tends to create a river, like from a downspout or from a high to low area, a rain garden can help slow down and control the flow. Not only will this protect the storm drain system from runoff, but you can direct water towards plants, increasing the deep watering needed to create strong roots systems.  

  1. Capture rainwater. Purchase a rain barrel or two and harvest the rainwater pouring out of your down spout anyway. Use this to water indoor and outdoor plants. Not only do plants prefer rainwater, but you aren’t using potable water on something that does not require it. Rainwater capture also helps control excess water from flooding your yard and lowers the amount of water rushing into the storm drains in heavy rain. It is then slowly distributed back into the ground water system when used in the yard. 

Mandatory restrictions are not unusual for southern Alberta municipalities. Okotoks has lived with yearly mandatory water restriction Outdoor Watering Schedule in Effect | The Town of Okotoks) since 2008. By implementing the above habits or changes into your home and yard it will help minimize the impact on your household if Calgary needs to implement restrictions. For more information on the City of Calgary’s drought resistant plan, check out their website (Drought (calgary.ca)). The full report is at the bottom of the page.